[Editor: This poem by Frank Morton was published in The Bulletin Reciter, 1901.]
A Twisted Idyl.
Charteris, the artist with the lovely wife,
A casual friend of mine, told me the story
In a chance mood of careless confidence . . .
Among the privileges of my youth,
Two girls I knew. One of them loved me ; one
I loved. So very comely were these two,
So fair, so young, I was half-pitiful
And more (I think) than half-contemptuous
Of my poor heart that could not shelter both.
Madge (who loved me) was tender, trustful, true.
Bewitching in her modest grace ; and Nell
(She whom I loved) was petulant, self-willed,
Feigning no fealty to Love, no care
For those Love vanquished. So it came that each
Was natural foil to the other.
Madge was fair —
Fair as a harvest morning. Her sweet eyes
Suggested shaded corn-flowers touched with dew,
Or that cool corner of the dawning’s sky
Remotest from the jocund sun. Her hair
Was like the sun itself, or like the sun
Seen through a crystal cup of amber wine.
She neither bound nor braided it ; it fell
In a soft-rippling wealth of fleeciest gold
Careless about her shoulders, here and there
Touched with a coppery tint that brightened it
And made its gold the richer. At her neck
And round the wee pink ears, more dainty than
Shells of the happy Islands, vagrant tresses
Curled crisply into ringlets which (although
Dear modest Madge had blushed to dream of it)
Were clamorous for kisses. Her soft lips,
Fresh as the bloom on early dewberries,
Were sweet and maidenly, nor skimp nor full ;
Her teeth’s pure ivory peeped demurely through them —
Ah, God ! the kindest mouth in all the world,
And quite the purest ! Then the dear girl’s head
(So wealthily adorned) was finely poised
On perfect shoulders. Even in her teens,
Madge was full-bosomed ; even in her teens,
She had a certain gracious motherliness
Which made all children love her, and all men
Love children for her sake, and her for theirs.
And when men saw her, natural desire
Of the fair girl’s bright beauty straight was crushed
Back, as a something in its essence base.
So sweetly pure and purely sweet she was . . .
And this girl loved me, though I loved her not,
Save as a decorative incident.
As men love charming women within their reach
And yet respected. Had she hidden her love
Beneath some guise of scorn or coquetry.
It might have won me, perhaps ; one never knows.
But though she ne’er by conscious sign or glance
Revealed it, it lay plain. I recognised it
By many infallible signs. I pitied her ;
And loved myself the better, pitying her ;
And by that double pity loved Nell more.
Nell was a wisp of girl — tall, willowy, slight ;
What the keen French call svelte ; no other word
So well describes her. Dark as Night she was,
And bright as noonday. Her disturbing eyes
Were wells of inky blackness, but aswim
With all the poisoned light of all the world.
Her mouth ? — it seemed that ages of desire.
Legions of lovers’ heats, had blossomed there
Into the perfect flower of passion and
All ardour’s concentrate. Her lips were full,
And curled like those of Walter Crane’s ideal ;
Always a little apart, as though they feared
To touch each other’s fires. Her nose was small,
Wide at the nostrils, just a shade retroussé
As Love would have it. Hair a trifle coarse.
But lustrous and abundant, odorous of
Herself, — her self whose every charm combined
To make her matchlessly desirable.
Her every line breathed passion and allurement.
From the proud head to the small, high-arched feet,
Piquant and most provocative.
I saw her
For the first time (the night she maddened me
To such a love as shook me half to death)
In evening-dress — that wanton garb in which
Our modest women ape immodesty.
And so wield weapons which they wot not of ;
Trick-out their charms for market, as it were :
Our curious modern women ! . . . But, of Nell.
Her arms were bare to the shoulders. Exquisite arms,
As lithe as Hebe’s, dimpled at the elbows
And at the wrists, ending in small, ringed hands —
Small tyrannous hands which straightway clutched my heart
And sealed my thraldom. Her small breasts were bare
Almost to the nipples, in the modern way :
Impertinent breasts jutting to right and left
As though in cool derision of beholders ;
And as her lissom form swayed in the dance
I stood and watched her. Then I danced with her
(Five minutes introduced), and at the end
Of that first dance I told her that I loved her.
She was not shocked nor in the least surprised.
But laughed quite frankly in my face, and laughed
My hopes to scorn with queenly-soft contempt.
So I (no babe with women) set out to win her,
And put my soul into the chase. I played
Relentlessly on all her nerves, her moods.
Her dormant passionateness. I studied her,
And whetted her caprices to appease them.
I marked her tastes ; I wooed her mind to paths
Where maidens’ minds may feed on dangerous sweets.
I stirred her blood with tales of war and death.
I stirred her pulse with tales of life and love.
With such success did I conduct the siege
That presently she thought she loved me ;
And I observed her thought, and counted One !
So I went on, with all the subtle art
That men learn — from the Devil, possibly ;
But from the modern world, at anyrate.
I, who was godlike in my plans, was still
Doglike in my devotion. Thus the days
Passed quickly, and I saw that every day
Her eyes grew brighter at my coming, and
Her voice thrilled to a new note, tremulous,
Half-timid, all unlike herself ; and then
I knew she loved me, and I thought she knew
I knew she loved me ; and I was content.
For, when I spoke my love again, she flung
Weeping into my arms ; but in a little
Turned up that glorious mouth to my first kiss . . .
Dear man ! some moments make it worth the while
To live, though life end in the bitterness
Of Hell and an eternity of pain.
The story ? That’s the story. Just, you see,
The ordinary idyl, somewhat twisted,
In just the ordinary way.
The sequel ?
Oh, in the end of course I married Nell.
And in the end of course I loved dear Madge,
Who is not married yet.
And Nell, my wife?
Oh, she loves me — (what is the vulgar phrase?) —
Worships the ground I tread on. . . Just, you see,
The ordinary idyl intertwisted.
A.G. Stephens (editor). The Bulletin Reciter: A Collection of Verses for Recitation from “The Bulletin” [1880-1901], The Bulletin Newspaper Company, Sydney, 1902 [first published 1901], pages 187-192